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Smart Waste Management

A trash bin with a colorful background
Illustration: © IoT For All

Waste collection is an essential city service, yet existing waste management systems are resource-intensive, inefficient, and outdated. The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to greatly optimize collection services and reduce operational costs for cities. 

All humans produce municipal solid waste, commonly known as trash or garbage, on a daily basis, yet essential waste collection systems in cities are often taken for granted by residents until a garbage bin overflows. Due to recent population growth and urbanization, waste production in cities has increased, and municipal waste collection operations need to adapt to be able to ensure clean cities.

How Do Cities Currently Manage Their Waste?

With most existing waste management systems, a city collection service will travel a predefined route on a regular basis and empty trash and recycling receptacles, whether they are full or not. The fixed nature of this system creates the possibility of half-full bins being emptied, unnecessary fuel being spent, and excess use of city resources. The current manual collection methods are highly resource-intensive. With the help of IoT, they can be transitioned into data-driven collection processes.

What Is Smart Waste Management?

Smart waste management solutions use sensors placed in waste receptacles to measure fill levels and to notify city collection services when bins are ready to be emptied. Over time, historical data collected by sensors can be used to identify fill patterns, optimize driver routes and schedules, and reduce operational costs. The cost of these sensors is steadily decreasing, making IoT waste bins more feasible to implement and more attractive to city leaders.

Existing Smart Waste Management Technologies

Sensoneo is a smart waste management solution provider that produces two types of ultrasonic sensors that are able to monitor the fill level for waste bins of various types and sizes. Their platform helps cities and businesses optimize waste collection routes by factoring in the fill levels of bins, the size of collection vehicle fleets, and the distance to landfills. They claim that their solution can reduce waste collection costs by at least 40 percent and lower carbon emissions in cities up to 60 percent. 

The CleanCUBE, produced by eCube Labs, is a solar-powered trash compactor that can hold up to 8 times more waste than a non-compression bin. As trash accumulates in the CleanCUBE, its sensors monitor the fill level in real-time and automatically activate a compaction cycle when the bin is full. All sensor information is sent to their platform where data analytics can reveal patterns regarding waste collection.

Smart Waste Management in Practice

New York has one of the more complicated waste management ecosystems in North America. It takes around 72 hundred waste collectors and a lot of infrastructure to keep the city of roughly 8.6 million people sanitary and clean. In Times Square alone, an estimated 500,000 pedestrians pass through on a daily basis, creating roughly 15,300 pounds of garbage. In March 2013, 30 Bigbelly smart waste and recycling stations were deployed in Times Square as part of the largest public space recycling initiative in New York City. The Bigbelly units are equipped with waste compaction capabilities, real-time fill level monitoring, and collection notifications. With the Bigbelly smart stations, the total trash capacity was increased by nearly 200 percent and the frequency of collection per bin decreased by 50 percent. The program was such a success that the city expanded the deployment to 197 smart stations. 

In the Netherlands, starting in 2009, the city of Hague began installing underground trash bins that can hold a larger quantity of waste. As of 2017, the city has 6,100 units installed below the sidewalk with the top of the bin emerging out of the ground at waist height. Around 3,500 of these submerged receptacles are sensor-enabled, which has allowed waste-management officials to remotely monitor the fill levels of containers and set up “smart schedules” for emptying them. The success of these underground containers landed them in a 2017 New York City Zero Waste Design guidelines report, where they act as an example of innovative waste solutions. 

Written by Nadia Jamrozik

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